Years ago, I was watching the movie Swing Kids, a film about swing dancing and youth rebellion, set during the slow and intentional synthesis of Naziism into the German culture at large. As I watched the film, I thought, “how could a dangerous idea like that ever take root in our culture today?” A culture now deeply entrenched in broadcast mediums and personal and socially expansive technologies. At that time, I consoled myself that any idea attempting to steal freedom and force mainstream compliance could be easily recognized by a “connected” society.
There is an adage by George Santayana that is stated often: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Thankfully, with our many broadcast technologies, we can watch or search out programs and content that show how certain societies fell to ideas that stripped freedoms and created societal subjugation. From the Chinese “Cultural Revolution,” to the rise of Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Communist Russia, we can see the results, and observe its context, that those moving through those moments in time couldn’t see.
The past exposes what the present can’t fully see.
Thus, the society’s communication mechanisms would serve as a buffer, backstop or deterrent to the propagation of those ideas.
That was my hope as I watched Swing Kids. These personal broadcasting technologies allow ANYONE to be a dissenting voice to counteract freedom-stealing ideas, even pointing to past history to show their danger.
I don’t know if that was naivete or blind faith then, but that moment is disappearing now.
Because the problem isn’t just found in the ideas espoused…
When it comes to ideas (and even the definition of freedom) we need to understand that they are somewhat subjective concepts. A good idea to one group may be incredibly wrong, or even damaging to other groups. Those that are pro-life consider the idea of legally sanctioning abortion up to the moment of birth to be incredibly damaging. Those that are LGBTQ+ consider those that wish to take away any rights through the ideas of certain political institutions and even court nominees to be incredibly damaging. Ideas are subjective, based on our past, our worldviews, and our relational and educational upbringings. But the discussion of those ideas, whether claimed as subjectively dangerous or subjectively positive, is a right and honor of a free society. The power of those ideas should be decided by the culture, through its transmission and broadcast mechanisms, as its proponents AND dissenters attempt to change hearts and minds for and against certain ideas.
In other words, it’s not the idea that just the most dangerous, but when opposing viewpoints are squelched, denied and antagonized that true danger and ultimate subjugating power occurs. Ideas, even seemingly damaging ideas, need to be expressed, so that the population can accept or reject them. When ideas become legislation, they become somewhat normative. Those in Colorado that are against the idea of marijuana usage are out of luck now. It’s governmentally sanctioned. Likewise, those adverse to hard narcotics are out of luck in Portland. If you don’t like it… move or attempt to vote it out in the future. But free communication of all ideas should be just that, free. The first amendment allows us to broadcast our beliefs, subjectively positive or subjectively negative, and allow the general populace to accept or reject, combat or sanction.
When the freedom to express an idea is predetermined by outside groups, it doesn’t matter the idea. Freedom of speech is not a right or left, conservative or progressive idea. Any idea can be argued and justified by those on the right, or the left — with equal and valid points of view and conclusions.
When only a certain and singular narrative is allowed to be broadcasted, we are in a dangerous societal place.
Because we don’t have future history to determine the danger or benefit of that particular idea. We only have the opinions of its benefit from those that support it. When opinion becomes, not only acceptable as a form of truth, but legitimizes the silencing of all other dissenting voices, then we are operating in the framework of what allowed Nazi Germany or Communist Russia to foment. It matters not the idea.
Which brings me back to my naivete after watching Swing Kids. My trust was that the broadcast mechanisms of our culture were also free and impartial. If certain ideas that were dangerous, which only history will decide, could be exposed or rationalized thoughtfully then the society could reject those ideas and push them to the fringes of the culture. But instead, the mechanisms to broadcast out dissenting voices are slowly and perpetually silencing those voices. The tragedy is not the ideas being communicated but the freedoms being lost.
Now, I’m not that naïve, there are legitimate reasons to believe that certain ideas may be considered damaging, or even dangerous. The last four years, and what has been broadcasted at the highest governmental levels during those years, have certainly left us cause for alarm. But that can and should be argued and debated through our broadcast mechanisms. When those debate mechanisms are taken away from certain groups, and opposing ideas are not ever questioned because they have no voice, then cultural authority isn’t bestowed freely on an idea.
It is stolen.
In the movie Swing Kids, a generation rose up to fight, and win against, not just ideological Nazism, but the cultural control of a singular idea that had silenced all other ideas. Humanity decries those historical moments. We wail and weep for those that suffered and died during that time. We say to ourselves, “we will NEVER let that happen again.” We won’t ever again succumb to such evil ideas and their eventual outcomes!
In focusing on the idea, we also miss the other tragedy hidden beyond the ideas themselves.
Which ideas are going to be found to be positive or negative? Which are beneficial or damaging to society? History will eventually decide. The past can’t conceal the damage of an idea, even if its supporters may claim otherwise in the present. But one thing is for certain, if we allow a singular narrative to shut out all other narratives, despite any claimed legitimacy for doing so, then we aren’t a free society. And in that way, we will start to become, in composition, NOT in idea, like a Nazi Germany or a Communist Russia. And then only future history will be able to decide if it served us well.